Change Your Pace
Hilton Gregory

  
All of us have experienced at one time or another the feeling of renewal that comes from a change of pace.  We may be walking or driving along slowly, and something happens that makes us speed up.  New sensations occur; new thoughts cross the mind.  We become more alert.  Or if we have been walking breathlessly beyond our pace there is a feeling of relief, even repose, in slowing down.

The pace that kills is the pace that never changes; frequent change of pace will keep us from tedium on one hand or apoplexy on the other.

For most of us a change of pace means slowing down, but in many activities we should speed up.  We may walk and talk too fast but think and work too slowly. 

Everyone in journalism knows that as a deadline approaches the reporter, the make-up artist, the people on the copy desk all turn out better work in half the time it takes when there is no pressure.  The acceleration releases latent powers.  I have seen people, when there's time, bone for an hour over a title or a heading--conjuring up, as the slow mind at work will, dozens that are no good.  But as the last hour approaches, when there is no time to dally, their minds click and the captions come in a flash.  It is not mere speed that does the trick, but speed that follows deliberation.

Experts in charge of reading clinics point out that the best way to get something out of the printed page is to read it fast, to set about to see how quickly it can be intelligently covered, because the mind may wander when reading is too slow.  

The chances are that you should change your reading pace from one of leisurely inspection to one of concentrated, swift consideration.  On the other hand, if you have allowed yourself to become a hit-and-run reader, you may need to give more time.  No one pace is adequate in reading.  There are books to be read hastily and others to be read with loving delay.

I have a nephew whose slowness is the despair of his teachers, not to mention his kin.  At the age of nine he gets his work done in his own good time.  The other morning his mother suggested with wisdom that he write a letter before going to school.  His other letters had taken as much as a day, off and on, to compose.  In this case, his time was limited to 20 minutes in which to write his grandmother everything he could think of.  The result was the best letter he had ever done.  It was the change of pace that did it, by putting emphasis upon the preciousness of time and the importance of using it to maximum effect.

We've been kidding ourselves too long with the notion that we are rushed to death.  We are rushed with the wrong things.  In these we ought to slow down, but in others speed up.  "Slow and easy" is no motto for an interesting life, as some contend.  Indeed slowness may be a deterrent; often a person can get further with a difficult job by plunging into it full steam.

Not infrequently a change of pace is in itself a means of learning.  Years of using the typewriter steadily--added to the fact that I never learned to write as a child--recently made it almost imperative that I improve my longhand.  I discovered that I had been rushing pell-mell through my words.  I disciplined myself to write plainly, meticulously.  Associates testify gratefully that the improvement is a long step toward legibility.  And what was once a chore has become a pastime.

Thus a change in tempo may increase enjoyment whether or not it improves our work.  If you are doing something tedious, it may become fun if done at a changed speed.  Many tasks--to mention only cleaning house and writing letters--are oppressive in part at least because they are time-consuming.  But if we make them an affair of dashing cavalry our attitude changes.  The job becomes an adventure, or a contest at least.  For, oddly enough, a job done at different speeds is not the same job at all.  The motions and emotions connected with it are different.  Many people who pine to change their jobs need only to change the pace with which they do their jobs--mix up their work and get variety into the tempo.

Change of pace is like what we call second wind; in moments of fatigue it sets up a fresh current of nervous energy.  If you have been methodically moving around the house, making beds, dusting, sweeping, try shifting the flow of your energy into a different rhythm.  Or in the office, vary rush typing with work at slower speed.  As you work at any fatiguing task you'll find that change of tempo rewards you, like the second wind, with a glowing sense of power.

Nowhere in the simple acts of daily life does a change in pace make more difference than in eating.  Most of us gulp our food, and we miss half the fun of eating.  I was a fast eater, and so tried imagining that I was a slow-motion picture of myself.  Then I really tasted for the first time foods I had been eating half-consciously all my life.

I live in one of the uncelebrated scenic spots of the United States.  There are no travel folders to hymn its grandeur.  Everyone rather accepts its charm as a matter of course, and one reason for this is that no one, save perhaps when mothering a new car, drives slowly enough to appreciate the region.  Until I myself broke in a new car, I never even saw an old tulip tree on the way to the station.  Its top is broken by a generation of storms, some of its limbs are missing, yet it survives with a pride and strength that shame me in moments of trifling discouragements.  It has been there for years but I never saw it while I was hell-bent for nothing.  And there is a cathedral of trees and rocks on the parkway not a mile from where I live--a place of quietness and strength.  Even to glance at it thoughtfully in passing is to experience a moment of vespers.  I had never been aware of this spot until I changed my pace.

Since in my work I have to talk a lot, I have fallen into the habit of talking rapidly.  Lately I decided to alternate rapid speech with periods of slowing down, weighing each word, and letting its implications have full play.  And this, I find, keeps the auditor's attention on edge, and makes me phrase more clearly the ideas I want to convey.  But it does more--it affords me a new sense of confidence.

Haven't you, on the other hand, known dreary, hesitant people who ought to try talking fast for a change?  While they fumble vaguely with facts, ideas and phrases, you'd like to jolt them into thinking a sentence swiftly through before they began it, so that words would follow one another with logical sequence and zip.  Deliberate speeding up would not only add tremendously to their conversational effectiveness, but would also transform them by giving them a new and more sparkling personality.

In our method of thinking, above all, change of pace can be invaluable.  The almost universal curse of worry is simply thought slowed down to a stumbling and circuitous walk.  To think through and settle once for all a problem in the shortest possible time, and to act briskly and daringly on our decision, is to annihilate the problem of worry.

On the other hand, on busy days, try slowing down instead of speeding up.  Linger over breakfast; pretend that you have a lifetime for the many things which must be crowded in before night.  Live at slow motion.  Instead of racing, make yourself stroll.  And, paradoxically, when evening comes you will have actually done more work than if you had pushed yourself.

To live all one's life at largo would be deadly boring.  The symphony you like or the musical composition that stirs you is neither fast nor slow throughout; it has as much variety in tempo as in mood.  It is this in part that keeps your interest keyed to the theme.

If we are hectic and rushed it is not necessary to pull up stakes, move to the country and drive a horse to change the pace of living.  It's not the city or business that wears us out; it's our response to it, our meeting life head-on without slowing down or speeding up.  So if you are hitting a terrific pace, slow down.  You don't have to slow down forever:  it's the change you need.  Or if you are going too slowly, if you are not alert but stodgy and graceless in your living, "step on it" a while. What's tedious in one speed may be delightful in another. 

(1942) 

  
    


 
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